Submitting work to a literary magazine to be reviewed, and possibly rejected, by editors is scary. And although I'm fairly new to the game, I'm not sure that will ever change.
But it's not knowing that strangers are reading my writing that makes my heart race and palms sweaty; instead, it's showing my writing to friends and family.
Maybe this seems counter-intuitive. After all, who would want me to succeed more than friends and family? Writing is extremely personal, so wouldn't someone who knows me personally be better suited to reading it than a stranger?
But that's the crux of the issue. My writing is personal, but not in the same way as ideas or feelings I'd discuss with my family. Writing gets to the grit of the matter, and usually not in a conventional, straight-forward way. Great stories have many interpretations, which readers can appreciate and adapt to their own lives, but friends can take differently.
Most of my published stories deal directly with death, for example a suicide attempt, cancer, and a car crash. When a stranger reads these, maybe they wonder what prompted me to write them, but more likely they appreciate the story for the way it resonates with them.
Friends and family wonder instead why these thoughts rattle inside my head.
"Is this what you think about?"
In one way, yes. I was thinking about death when I wrote these stories. But in another way, no. I go about my day just like everyone else. I laugh and smile, and I assure you my mind isn't constantly consumed with gruesome thoughts.
Instead, these stories are an outlet for other things that bounce around in my head. Feelings of frustration may spur a story about escape through suicide. A loss of control in an area of my life goes on paper as a young girl developing cancer and learning to accept her fate.
As writers, and humans, we cope with our struggles in unique ways. So, yes, that is what I think about, and though it's difficult to reveal, I'm damn proud of it.
Remember the days when everything was magical? You opened the doors to the supermarket with your mind; pressed your nose to the elevator glass and gasped as the ground rushed away; marveled at your strength as your dad dramatically collapsed from your tiny tackle. And then, you grew up.
Our world is full of inventions and technology that would be extraordinary magic to the people of a century, even half-century, ago. We can communicate with people halfway across the world in real-time, travel to that same spot in one day instead of many months, and access almost any type of information instantly. But we see no magic in this. We take it all in as common, expected, even boring.
This isn't a trait specific to the generations alive today. I’m sure if one were to travel back in time to a century after the invention of the wheel, the populace wouldn’t be amazed by that basic, yet crucial technology.
However, we in this better-faster-newer age lose excitement over even the latest, shiniest technology quicker than ever. Who cares about the iPhone 6 anymore? It’s been out for an entire year. Practically ancient news in today’s world. (Although I am writing this as someone with an iPhone 5S to which I’m still very much attached.)
It’s natural for our sense of childlike wonder to dim as we age. I'd probably get some weird looks now if I started shrieking about my mind’s enormous power while entering the supermarket. But it’s good to take a step back every once in a while and realize the staggering awesomeness of our world.
Right now I'm holding a 'common' device only a little bigger than my hand that can access an almost endless trove of information, take clear pictures, send messages in many formats, and project my voice across thousands of miles. And that, my friends, is pretty darn magical.
*I previously published a version of this post on a course blog.
I'd only read a few pages of Howard Rheingold's "Attention! Why and How to Control your Mind's Most Powerful Instrument" when my mind started to wander.
Some thoughts were slightly relevant:
I wonder if this will help my writing.
This font is too small; I’ll magnify it.
How many pages in this chapter again?
Others slightly less:
My foot itches.
I wonder if Lauren’s texted me back yet.
Did my phone just vibrate?
It only took a few more thoughts for me to catch myself and laugh. There I was, reading a chapter about the importance of paying attention, and not paying attention.
But how could I? As Brave New World author Aldous Huxley states, man has an “almost infinite appetite for distractions.” And in today's world of information overload, there's an all-you-can-eat distraction buffet.
I'm not a multi-tasker. I work best focused on one task with minimal distractions; but in our world of information overload, minimal distractions still take a heavy toll. My phone may be in the next room, but I can still easily hear the buzz of a text message or email, which can prompt a series of errant thoughts.
Ok, so let’s say I turn it off. Now I’m thinking about missing an important call, having to explain later that I didn’t have my phone on. Didn’t have your phone on? They scoff. Everyone always has their phone on.
Even turned off, the sheer existence of my phone pulls at my attention; and the attention-drain worsens when one considers the other multiple avenues of communication.
We expect each other to be available every waking moment and frankly, it’s exhausting. I feel as if technology is a toddler tugging on my skirt, shouting “Mom! Mom! Look at me! Now! Mom! Mom? Hello?” Yet when I finally look down at little Technology, I feel a wave of affection.
Without social media, connecting with readers and other writers would be much more difficult. Widespread use of the internet, social media, and texting has facilitated ease of information, connection, and communication across long distances. However, as a society we need to begin practicing mindfulness to function offline as well as on. Moms need a break, too.
*I previously published a version of this post for a college course.
Firstly, if anyone has clicked on this link recently in hopes of an actual blog, I sincerely apologize. As it turns out, consistent blogging is not my forte.
To bash myself further, I'd like to talk about another weakness of mine: personal writing.
Spouting this as a weakness may seem ironic in a post that is essentially personal, but I assure you that I've always struggled with writing about myself. Though my fiction characters may share my struggles, personality, and even hair color, something in me freezes up when I type the word "I" and it actually refers to myself.
In the past few years, I've had life experiences that most would classify as strange and unusual--going to a inpatient mental hospital, make close friends and connections with fellow patients, and battling Lyme disease. All of this is great fodder for a story, but my fingers stall on the keys when I attempt to begin my mini memoir.
Why? In my usual poor personal writing form, I can't exactly tell you. Maybe it's because I don't see these stories as completed, but then many authors write memoirs in the prime of their lives. Maybe it's that I'm reluctant to see my journey as interesting enough for a story, yet I submit my imaginational journeys for publication with relative ease.
In short, I'm not sure why I find personal writing so difficult, but I'm hoping that, like for my fiction writing, there's a short learning curve.
I'm not the biggest fan or expert of social media. However, I've been discovering more and more that my social media presence is crucial to gain exposure to my writing. This probably seems like an obvious revelation to my fellow writers and readers, but I am just warming up to the idea. For a long time, it was difficult for me to believe my ideas and opinions relevant or interesting to my followers.
Social media is a strange beast that can create jealousy, unfair comparisons, and selfishness. However, when tamed, this same beast can foster understanding, motivation, and compassion. When another writer or reader comments on my writing, which they usually have discovered through social media, I feel a surge of validation and happiness, even if the comment is critical.
As a writer, I do not write for the validation or the audience, but rather for a need to release the stories inside of me. But I would be lying to myself if I dismissed the importance of validation and an interested reader. Good writing is meant to be read, whether by millions or a single person.
Through social media, I and thousands of other aspiring writers find our readers, maintain our confidence, share our stories.
What are your opinions of gaining exposure through social media? In what ways have you done so? Do you agree with my belief that writing is meant to be read? Please comment with your answers!
Thanks for reading!
Sometimes I write that amazing story and come up with a perfect title right away. Everything just falls into place; the title fits my story and its characters as if the writing gods themselves chose it especially for me. But most of the time, I don't.
Most of the time I struggle for hours to find a title, going through ones so stupid that they can't even be mentioned in this blog post. Sometimes finding a perfect title is like finding something to rhyme with orange: it's impossible (unless, of course, I make up a word).
But all the frustration, heartache, and tears suddenly become worth it when THE title comes to my brain. I could be walking to class or talking to a friend when it hits me, sudden and hard like a punch to chest. THE title.
And like that, my story is finished. Not neatly, of course, because I hate when writers wrap everything in a neat little bow. Please feel free to kick me if I ever do that. And not perfectly. Just finished.
Then I can breathe. Until I write another story and it begins all over again.